Monday, January 20, 2014

Power to the People!

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." ~ Martin Luther King Jr. 

On this official celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I am happy to report that protests are alive and well. As my teen years were spent in the 60’s, I am well versed in the art of protests. I marched against the Vietnam War, for the Civil Rights Movement and for the Grape Bycott by the Migrant Farmwokers. I participated in protests in my school for more student representaion and a demonstration or two.

I come by it honestly. My father was a Democratic Committeeman in the 23rd division of the 61st ward. He had no end of opinions about what was going on in the world and encouraged us kids to speak out what was on our minds. He used the fine art of debate to hone our skills, often taking the opposite side of an issue just to see if your reasoning was sound. As a teen, I was often angry and dismayed that he could have certain opinions of the issues of the day. But when I got older, I understood that he didn’t necessarly feel that  way, but wanted me to think about the reasons I felt the way I did.

These days in Philadelphia, I am heartened by the parents and students protesting against the draconian cuts in funding for education in Pennsylvania, espcially in Philadelphia.  Our union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has always been vocal in their displeasure of the corporate reform takeover of the city schools, but until recently most members just stayed quiet about it. Now we have weekly rolling protests at city schools where we hand out pamphlets and do informational picketing.

Since the School Reform Commission (SRC) took over the school district as a way to save money and supposedly raise test scores, I have watched parents such as Helen Gym start to organize and question the motives of the state-appointed board. She has empowered and mobilized a much-needed ally for us teachers. Helen is respected city-wide and like EF Hutton, when she talks, people listen. Diane Ravitch had chosen her to participate in the debate that Michele Rhee eventually cancelled. So, Helen is not only a familiar voice in Philadelphia, she is known nationally. Helen has organized parents to fight for the public schools herein the organization, Parents United for Public Education. Her organization keeps the community up-to-date on major issues in education and she is not afraid to call out the SRC, the PFT, the Mayor, or the Governor if she feels they are wrong. Her vocal protests have indeed turned the tide of apathy where the parents are concerned.

The high school students have also formed an organization to make sure their voices are heard. The Philadelphia Student Union has been present in large numbers at the marches held downtown to protest the closure of schools and the decimation of the school district’s budget. On January 17th, the Governor was scheduled to address the student body at Central High School and honor Central, Masterman, and Carver high schools for their excellent performance on the PSSA. Parents, teachers and students planned a demonstration at the school when Corbett arrived to let him know that we need a fair and equitable system of school funding, something we don’t have now. The Governor decided not to give the schools their state certificates because of the protests and instead went to his center city office. A large group of parent and union members along with some students, followed him downtown and made sure they brought the protest to him.

This was the TV coverage about the incident.

We need more people to tell the SRC that we are sick of the closures, charter school fraud, and lack of funds. We need to keep these issues in front of the public in order to make that change. We cannot “accept evil without protesting against it” or we will be in bad straits.

Power to the People!

Still learning!

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